After the tragic loss of several high school students last fall, including one to an early morning traffic accident, Ann Arbor Public Schools knew it was time to take another look at overall student health. They identified high school start times as one issue that needed particular focus. The Michigan school district partnered with ThoughtExchange® to learn what the whole community really thought about starting school later.
Research has increasingly shown the benefits of sleep on wellness and learning for adolescent students, which has led school districts across the nation to start looking at later high school start times.
Ann Arbor had talked about the topic in the past, but faced the same challenge many districts face—the impacts later start times have on transportation and extracurricular activities. These changes affect families in many ways, and it was difficult to effectively communicate why they were necessary to the people who disagreed.
The conversation recently came to the forefront again after last fall’s tragic losses led a local Start School Later group to begin vocally advocating for later start times.
“It was these tragedies early in our school year that brought greater attention to the work of the Start School Later group, and started driving home the point that the mental and physical well being of our kids needed even more of our attention,” says Ann Arbor Executive Director of High School Education, Paul DeAngelis.
DeAngelis and the leadership team knew they needed to broadly consult with their community and find a solution that would work for everyone.
Framing the narrative
Ann Arbor’s leadership worked with the ThoughtExchange team to create an exchange designed to learn where their community truly stood on the issue of later start times.
“ThoughtExchange was an opportunity for us to use a very dynamic approach that engages people at a whole different level than some kind of survey you would send out,” DeAngelis says.
“The power of ThoughtExchange is that you not only get to hear what people are saying, but hear how people are reacting to what other people are saying. We wanted to do this because we knew we could get a depth of conversation in our community that would drive us to look at this in a more contemporary way.”
Their exchange engaged 4,512 people who shared 10,661 thoughts and placed 181,594 stars when considering the various thoughts shared.
“Those are incredibly powerful numbers,” DeAngelis says.
Along with providing a unique way of gathering thoughts from the community, DeAngelis adds that ThoughtExchange let the district communicate the results in a way that helped people understand why leadership wanted to give students more options around start times.
“It helped us take action and frame our narrative—the messaging we’re trying to put out behind this.”
“ThoughtExchange was an opportunity for us to use a very dynamic approach that engages people at a whole different level than some kind of survey you would send out.”Paul DeAngelis, Ann Arbor Executive Director of High School Education
A contemporary approach
Through their exchange, Ann Arbor learned that people were pretty evenly divided on the issue: many were in favor of the status quo, while a nearly equal number wanted later start times.
“I think when everything landed in the middle, it really did drive our board to take a different approach on this topic,” DeAngelis notes. “And I think it led to the result we got. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, we’re looking at a more contemporary schedule that allows flexibility on an individual basis."
The insights from their exchange helped Ann Arbor develop a transportation model that will allow students to start school later.
“We were able to come up with this initial step that lets students have transportation, which is a seminal piece to making that decision families have to make around their kids starting at a time other than the traditional start time,” DeAngelis says.
“I think the information we got from the community really helped us say, we have permission to explore some options. And it’s always powerful when you can say you’re doing something based directly on the response from your community.”
Ann Arbor’s progress on later start times also got the district a lot of newspaper coverage, and DeAngelis got calls from peers at more than 20 districts throughout the state who wanted to know how his team successfully implemented a modern start time model.
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- Learn what the community really thought of high school start times
- Find a schedule that would work for everyone
- An exchange that gathered the thoughts of 4,512 people
- Data analysis that helped effectively design community messaging
- Created a flexible, contemporary approach to scheduling
- Developed a transportation model to meet all needs
- Gained publicity and recognition as a leader on the issue amongst peers